Review of "Salem" on WGN From The TV MegaSite

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Salem on WGN

"Salem" review by Sundi 5/4/14
Airs Sundays 10/9c on WGN America

The story of WGN’s Salem is familiar for anybody who took eleventh-grade English and was forced to sit through a dry, monotone reading of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (or anybody who saw the 1996 movie adaptation with Wynonna Ryder). Also, you might remember that the story was framed as an allegory for religious zealotry and an indictment of the Puritanical system, meant to warn readers of the perils of spiritual indoctrination. But WGN is not going the figurative route and makes the witchcraft a very real presence in the show. Marketing with the phrase, “Witches are real,” we are meant to take the ideas of possession, hexing, spellcasting and shapeshifting very seriously. But this show leaves you with little choice in the matter. It takes itself very seriously in its storytelling and doesn’t indulge in any bits of camp like other witch shows of the moment (True Blood, AHS: Coven, Witches of East End) and it might suffer for it. Some of the characters (looking at you Mary Sibley) seem incongruous alongside others, and the chemistry between the players is lackluster, for now at least. However, it is a frightening reboot of a familiar story, and approaches the legend with fresh eyes, and I do appreciate that.

The show itself, well, it has its problems. Without the subtext and allegory inherent in the original Puritan story, the show reads a little too on-the-nose, and may not have enough substance in storytelling to sustain itself. It seems like it may have to rely too heavily on its cinematography and beautiful scenery, which is not altogether a bad thing, but can get problematic when thinking about future seasons. Also, (and this might be me splitting hairs) the dialogue is INSANELY anachronistic. Alden utters phrases like, “I call bullshit” and “the facts of life” and it completely jolts me out of the Salem universe and into a universe where I am laughing at the characters (and I think I’ve already established they don’t really want that). It seems a little lazy, and further, I think I would rather contend with the “thees” and “thous” than the mash-up of vernaculars.

I’ll concede that it is very hard to get a good read about a show from only its pilot, so I am content with demon-orgies, frogs suckling from leg-nipples and characters biting their own fingers off until the writers can sort out all the problem-areas. There is a lot of room for Salem to join the conversations about sexuality, gender, religion, class and race. Whether or not it will, remains to be seen.

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